The Philippines confirmed on Friday it will acquire three batteries of the BrahMos cruise missile jointly developed by India and Russia in a deal worth almost $375 million, a development expected to boost India’s efforts to become a major exporter of defence hardware.
The defence deal is unlikely to go down well with China, whose aggressive behaviour in the disputed South China Sea has taken relations with the Philippines to a fresh low. The Philippine Marines intend to use the BrahMos as a shore-based anti-ship missile.
Philippine defence secretary Delfin Lorenzana said he had recently signed the “notice of award” – or the acceptance of India’s proposal for supplying the missile – for the Philippine Navy’s shore-based anti-ship missile acquisition project.
“Negotiated with the Government of India, it includes the delivery of three batteries, training for operators and maintainers as well as the necessary Integrated Logistics Support (ILS) package,” Lorenzana said in a brief post on his Facebook page.
The deal for the BrahMos was conceptualised as early as 2017, and the office of the Philippines president “approved its inclusion in the Horizon 2 Priority Projects in 2020”, he added.
Hindustan Times had first reported in December 2019 that the Philippines was set to become the first country to buy the BrahMos missile system. Both sides were keen on signing the deal during a proposed visit by President Rodrigo Duterte early in 2021, but the plan fell through because of widespread disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
The notice of award signed by Lorenzana on December 31 last year put the value of the BrahMos deal at $374.962 million. Last month, the Philippines government allocated 2.8 billion pesos ($55.5 million) for initial funding for the weapon system. A team from the Philippine Navy visited the production unit of BrahMos Aerospace in Hyderabad in December as part of the acquisition process.
“The Coastal Defense Regiment of the Philippine Marines will be the primary employer of this modern strategic defense capability of the Armed Forces of the Philippines,” Lorenzana said.
There was no official word from the Indian side, though Sudhir Mishra, who was till recently the CEO of BrahMos Aerospace, said in a tweet: “As then CEO and MD, worked on the Philippines contract for the past five years very hard connecting people, dots, procedures & unseen forces. BrahMos has shown the way for high value defence exports.”
According to the government, policy changes have resulted in defence exports increasing by more than 325% over the last five years. India has set an ambitious target of achieving defence exports of $5 billion by 2024. The country exported defence gear worth ₹8,434.84 crore during 2020-21.
However, the BrahMos deal is being seen as a game changer as India’s defence exports so far have been items such as avionics, coastal surveillance systems, spares for radars, personal protective items, and offshore patrol vessels.
The deal with the Philippines could open the door for further sales of the BrahMos – which has a range of 290 km and can carry a 200-kg warhead – to other Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam and Indonesia, which have been engaged in negotiations for the weapon system for several years.
One of the potential areas for use of the BrahMos by the Philippines is the South China Sea. In 2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague ruled that a specific portion of the South China Sea claimed by both China and the Philippines belonged to the Philippines alone. China rejected the ruling and has continued to send its vessels into the disputed waters.
The Philippines military is currently implementing a revised modernisation programme and signed a contract for two corvettes with South Korea’s Hyundai Heavy Industries on December 28 last year. The Philippines also plans to sign contracts for 36 Black Hawk helicopters and six offshore patrol vessels in 2022.
Former Indian Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash said about the BrahMos deal in a tweet: “This is a long-delayed decision, which could alter the India-China strategic equation. By arming its Indo-Pacific friends, India not only helps bolster their security, but also gives China a dose of its own medicine! Vietnam & Indonesia, too, are waiting.”